E-Gov fund request shrinks

After seeing the central e-government fund slashed by Congress in the past, Office of Management and Budget officials took a new approach to asking for the money.

In the fiscal 2005 budget request, the Bush administration sought $5 million to fund the 24 cross-agency initiatives, much less than the $45 million requested in fiscal 2004 and closer to the $3 million Congress actually allotted last year. However, the administration also sought to supplement that fund with up to $40 million from the General Services Administration's general supply fund, which is made up of fees from agencies and vendors using GSA's supply services.

"The logic is the GSA supply fund comes from doing work for all the agencies," said Karen Evans, OMB's administrator for e-government and IT. "Let's take the money from there and apply it to fund the e-gov initiatives because these go back to benefit the agencies."

Evans said she is hoping this reasoning will prompt appropriators to allot the money to the central fund. The onus, she said, is on OMB and the agencies to communicate with Congress to show lawmakers the value of funding the initiatives this way.

When President Bush first proposed the fund in fiscal 2002, he committed to making available $100 million over three years, a goal he is far from meeting. For the past three years, the administration had requested $20 million to $45 million, but Congress continually slashed the fund, calling on agencies to find the resources to fund the 24 e-government initiatives.

"Given the present fiscal environment and the view of appropriators, I think that the administration feels they had zero chance in asking for more," said David Marin, spokesman for Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), one of the authors of the E-Government Act of 2002, which established the fund. "In addition, appropriators see the E-Gov fund as duplicative spending."

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) was also disappointed that the administration reduced the outright request rather than working with Congress to secure a larger sum, according to his spokeswoman Leslie Phillips. "The senator believes a well managed e-gov fund would achieve efficiencies and savings of its own," she said.

Some analysts said they didn't see a need for a large centralized fund when agencies should be working together and budgeting for their share of the projects. "Agencies are supposed to be taking on the responsibility for the portfolios," said Ray Bjorklund, vice president of market intelligence and chief knowledge officer at Federal Sources Inc. "That's where the money should be. Congress has said the same sort of thing -- what do you need that money for?"

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